Symbols: The Yin-Yang

The Yin-Yang symbol is the next to cover in the "Symbols" series. I’m going to be honest up front about this one—I am not going to be able to cover every aspect of what this symbol represents on this blog. The Yin-Yang could be compared to the cross of Christianity. It is almost emblematic of Taoism the way a cross is emblematic of Christianity. Therefore, I will summarize (in the greatest amount of detail possible) what this symbol represents.

At its core, the Yin-Yang represents the dualistic nature of the universe as understood in Taoism. There is light and dark, male and female, good and evil, positive and negative, warm and cold. Yin is representative of the dark side of the symbol—female, cold, negative, earth, etc. On the other hand, Yang is representative of the light side of the symbol—male, warm, positive, heaven, etc.

The two shapes come together to form a perfect circle. There are some other interesting geometrical relationships in the symbol. The dividing wavy line is exactly half of the outside circumference of the circle. This means that the total perimeter of each individual half equals the circumference of the entire circle. There is also a dark dot on the light side and a light dot on the dark side. These two small dots represent the understanding that the seed of the other is contained in each side.

This symbol comes to represent what could be called the balancing natural law. Shih-Toa’s poem “The identity of relative and absolute” expresses this understanding rather beautifully.

Within light there is darkness,
but do not try to understand that darkness.
Within darkness there is light,
but do not look for that light.
Light and darkness are a pair,
like the foot before and the foot behind in walking.
Each thing has its own intrinsic value
and is related to everything else in function and position.
Ordinary life fits the absolute as a box and its lid.
The absolute works together with the relative,
like two arrows meeting in mid-air.

This understanding gives rise to the notion that the two opposites must exist. There cannot be male without female, good without evil, warmth with coldness, etc. Each contains the essence of the other.

So the question naturally arises (to a Christian at least), is there a natural balancing law? Does this exist? Can we find this in the Scriptures? The Bible declares and proclaims in many places that God alone is Creator and Ruler of the universe. Isaiah 37:16 is just one example of this: “O LORD Almighty, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth.” The first two chapters of the book of Job make it clear that Satan is not a “balancing force” to God Almighty. No, it makes it clear that Satan answers directly to the God of the universe.

Maybe there’s not a natural balancing law, but couldn’t there be a seed of bad in God and a seed of good in Satan? 1 John 1:5 answers this question clearly: “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” The Bible makes it clear that God is completely light, good, etc. There is no seed of darkness or evil or the like.

You might be thinking, “Okay, maybe there is no natural balancing law and maybe there is no evil in God, but surely evil must exist for good to exist. Otherwise, we would have no concept of the other (i.e. evil is necessary to understand what is good and vise-versa).” I would answer that by explaining that this incorrectly understands what evil is. Evil is not a substance (by the way, this means God didn’t create evil); it is a corruption of good. The Old Testament often conveyed a mental picture of what sin was. It called forth the image of an archer standing down-range from a target. The goal of the archer was to shoot a bulls-eye. Sin wasn’t hitting the target God had intended—it was “missing the mark.” It was a failure to live according to God’s standard. This is clearly seen from the beginning in the Garden of Eden. God had given one rule, one standard, one target—no to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve fell short, they missed the mark.

Think of it like this. Evil is like rust. Rust is not actually a substance (though we often times think of it like that). Rust is actually a lack of what was previously there. It occurs through a process known as oxidation. This is a process where electrons are actually lost. When things start to rust, they start to disappear. Evil is like this—it is a lack of good where it should be. It is a lack of wholeness or completeness. When God created everything, he declared that it was good and creation was completed.

I am completely aware that this symbol has been adopted by teenagers simply because it looks cool. But the Yin-Yang (by its very name) symbol represents some deep spiritual understandings that really do not line-up with what the Bible says about God or creation.

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